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The defence of democracy is not for the apathetic.

The defence of democracy is not for the apathetic.

It is the stuff of conversation at the weekend barbeque, the cafe lunch, and after work drinks - "what the Government is doing to our country".

Thousands of hours are likely devoted to this topic, as hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders at any one time vent their spleens, one to another, on the state of our nation.

The topics covered by these conversations are myriad: tax; childcare; crime; family breakdown; welfare; health; education; business compliance; housing; Treaty of Waitangi; wages; immigration; legal sanctions; and youth are all common topics of layman discussion.

Yes, we kiwis are indeed great "talkers" - however actually making the decision to participate in "doing" something about the state of the nation? Then we are not so keen to speak up.

For many, the presence of representative democracy in New Zealand seems to mean that we elect representatives to Parliament every three years and then go to sleep. However, if democracy is to mean anything, it must also mean that we as citizens of New Zealand have a duty to take an active part in the democratic process - and in such a process, if we are unhappy about something, then choosing apathy as a response to an issue is not an option if we want to invoke change.

In the absence of active citizen participation, Democracy (or, rule by the people) becomes a representative void, a void most often filled by a well organised minority. It is not for nothing that minority Governments have become the order of the day in New Zealand, contributed in no small part by the majority voter endorsement of MMP in 1993.

It is a relatively simple task to assess our own level of participation in democracy, especially in New Zealand. We may only need to ask some questions of ourselves or others at the barbeque, the cafe, or the workplace, questions such as:

How do I determine who I vote for every three years at election time?

Have I ever made a submission (written or oral) to a Select Committee on a piece of legislation I either agree or disagree with?

Have I ever written a letter to the editor of my local newspaper, actually stating my opinion in the public arena?

Have I ever made a time to meet with my local MP and discuss any concerns I may have?

Have I ever engaged in any form of legitimate protest?

Have I ever donated either time or money to a lobby group that represents your interests?

Have I ever organised a petition, or indeed signed a petition for presentation to Parliament?

Have I ever joined a political party, or stood as a candidate for election?

In short, "if I am not happy with the status quo, instead of just talking about it, what am I going to do about it?" becomes the empowering question for one to carefully consider.

The common denominator contained within the above questions is this: the people who are successful in securing legislative victory in New Zealand do all of the above, and much more besides. Their collective commitment to the cause (whatever that cause may be) is active, unwavering, and ongoing.

From a democratic perspective, "the cause" is also often in the minority, yet still legislatively successful - which makes somewhat of a mockery of true democracy.

It is clear that being active in the democratic process breeds results. It is equally clear that being apathetic in democracy breeds resentment when the "other side" wins - however, these are victories that have been most often have handed to "them" by default.


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